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Roadside centers part of travel

I’ve never had a lot of use for welcome centers and rest areas, although they do have their purposes from time to time.

     I thought about that the other day as I rode by the Louisiana welcome center on Interstate 55 on my way to Baton Rouge. The center was closed as construction crews looked to be renovating the facilities and adding a new building.

     Having been in it a couple of times, I didn’t think anything was wrong with the old one.

     It’s typical of most of the ones I have seen before in Louisiana. It covers a large area and has several places where people can sit and relax or even enjoy a picnic.

     I remember the one across the river from my hometown of Vicksburg as this sprawling expanse and often wondered why anyone would actually want to stop. I mean, the South has two weather forecasts – hot and hotter – during traditional travel times, and I can think of far more interesting images to gaze upon than open fields.

     Speaking of Vicksburg, last year during the Mississippi River’s record highs was the first time I had been to the welcome center in I can’t remember when.

     On the grounds are a number of places that overlook the river and make good spots to take photos. I’ve noticed a number of tourism and other Vicksburg promotional pictures are taken from the welcome center.

     Mississippi is making strides when it comes to rest areas.

     Last year, the ones on Interstate 55 in Copiah County were upgraded. New lighting, wider truck parking and landscaping were part of the $1.32 million project.

     They look nice as I simply pass by. I say pass by because let’s be honest, the place is 10 miles from home and I don’t need a rest so quickly after getting in the car.

     Today’s rest areas are a far cry from ones I remember when I would travel with my folks during my childhood years.

     Back then, many of the rest areas we passed by were just paved road pull-offs with big trucks directed to take one way and cars the other.

     I don’t recall too many restrooms at those places, either. To me, a rest area without a restroom serves no purpose.

     There is that whole “stretch my legs” reason for getting out of the car on a long trip. Sorry, but I’ll stretch my legs at a convenience store, a mall or a similar retail establishment.

     Perhaps that’s why it takes me considerably longer than most folks to get where I’m going on vacations and the like. Plus, every car I drive it seems wants to pull off any time there’s a Target or a Walmart, and even some shopping malls.

     I got that trait from my mother.

     Dad didn’t go with us very often; he was usually hunting or something. Family trips were typically Mom, my grandmother and I.

     One trip we took every year was to northwest Alabama to see relatives at Thanksgiving. The usual route was up the Natchez Trace to Tupelo and then over to the Muscle Shoals-Florence-Tuscumbia area.

     On the way, we bypassed many Trace rest areas. But one place we would always stop was the convenience store at Jeff Busby Park.

     To me, riding the Trace was beyond boring; however, the store was a chance to break up the monotony of the long trip. It was also the only place to get gasoline on the Trace.

     A little more than a year ago, my brother and I took the Trace to Alabama for my aunt’s funeral.

     I was saddened to find out that the oasis from my childhood had closed. At least the restroom still worked.

     That’s all for now.

     Write to Managing Editor Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, or send e-mail to mcoleman@dailyleader.com.